Unwelcome behaviour at Conference

As a long time conference attendee, I adore the opportunity to meet Lib Dems, old and new, and engage and enthuse with like-minded people. But sometimes behaviour boundaries are pushed and we need to make a note of them to remind ourselves to challenge insidious sexist behaviour.

On the morning of Saturday 17th September, Lib Dems received a message from the Conference office entitled ‘Conference Guidelines’ which sets out details of what is unwanted behaviour.

Contemplating this, I thought it might be interesting to relate some unwelcome behaviour I encountered. I want to do this anonymously, but am aware others have noticed similar issues and feel it’s important we stand up to and challenge incidents like this when they occur.

On one day I attended the motion on Social Security. Now, it was a strong debate, with lots of opposing views. But when making those views, it should be noted it’s unacceptable to refer to a female speaker as “darlin’”, no matter how well you might know that individual. The language is sexist and patronising. While I believe the comment was made in an attempt at friendliness, it is still derrogatory and quite simply, should be wiped out. It’s on a par to David Cameron’s “calm down dear” episode at PMQs, and where we wouldn’t take the insult from the former Prime Minister, neither should we take it from friends or acquaintances. 

Later in the same day, I was keeping an eye out on a female friend who, by her own admission, had had a bit too much to drink when she disappeared. Asking a male acquaintance if he’d seen her, he responded with something along the lines of “Oh, my friend here would like to know if there’s a drunk girl about”. The implications are clear. No woman should have to feel she is vulnerable to unwanted advances in the event she has consumed alcohol. Meant as banter, this sort of statement is totally unacceptable. I challenged it then, and I believe everyone should challenge these lines of ‘banter’ when they occur.

A last observation, the Hilton Metropole had a system which blocked mobile phone reception unless you paid for internet access, or indeed were a guest at the hotel. I do believe this made a lot of people vulnerable – forcing them on to the pavement outside to gain reception in order to check messages, take calls and generally contact people. When there are nigh on 2,000 people at conference, this placed a lot of people in difficult positions, and I believe at times vulnerable. When seeking a friend who was intoxicated, it made it very difficult to use modern technology to locate her.

I believe the Conference Committee should oppose any system like this in future venues, including hotels used for fringe events. Safety should not be dependent on your ability to pay extortionate prices for mobile access.

Hopefully we can all take lessons from this, and be confident in standing up to sexism, even when disguised as banter or familiarity, and work towards a more equal society.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of some of the comments being posted, we will now be pre-moderating all comments for this thread.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Ryan McAlister 21st Sep '16 - 7:01pm

    Vulnerable? Standing outside a major hotel in a major UK city?

    Is this a party political conference or a meeting of a pre-school?

    As for the first point, what gives you the right (or anyone) to decide something is “patronising”. That is an emotion that is specific to person being patronised. Did the person so referred to indicate in any way that she felt way?

  • If this was the extent of the sexism at conference this year, I would consider it a roaring success.

  • Richard Worrall 21st Sep '16 - 7:18pm

    I can’t find a reason to disagree with any of this.

    The previous commenter seems to suggest with some annoyance that you are asking too much. Really though, how much of an imposition is it to ask that we leave Benny Hill in the 20th century?

  • @Ryan: Whenever a woman recounts her experience of misogynistic and sexist behaviour, the comments are usually full of men belittling that experience and telling her that really, it isn’t a problem. Perhaps you might like to reflect on what that might feel like.

    I wouldn’t want to put words in the mouth of the person who was the recipient of that remark, but I blanched when I heard it. I also know perfectly well that it wasn’t consciously meant in a patronising way, because it was a very good friend of mine who said it. I think it was one of those things that people can do without realising it. That doesn’t make it right. And I’m not saying anything on here that I haven’t said to his face.

    It’s also quite dark and isolated outside that hotel. Not far away one conference attendee did get beaten up and ended up in hospital. He’s fine, but it’s not the safe place you suggest. I certainly didn’t really like walking back to my hotel late at night.

    Perhaps you might like to read the piece again and try to have a bit of empathy with the author rather than just dismiss her concerns in such an aggressive manner.

  • @MBoy: This was the experience of one woman. It’s not exhaustive. It’s good that you recognise that this sort of behaviour is not uncommon.

  • @Michael – yes in the West Country it is normal for people to refer people they don’t know politely as “my love”. There are always people from outside the region pushing their cultural imperialism and saying it’s “no longer appropriate”…

  • I am SO glad that there are men here to tell us Lib Dem women what to think and how to feel. We love to be shouted down about our experiences by people who have no idea what it’s like to be us, and we especially enjoy having to write blog posts anonymously so we don’t have to fear reprisals.

  • “the Hilton Metropole had a system which blocked mobile phone reception unless you paid for internet access, or indeed were a guest at the hotel. ”

    It is illegal to block mobile phone signals. What happened was a phenomenon known as a lack of signal, probably caused by being inside a large steel structure. The Wifi transmitter/receivers the hotel uses will be located all over the building to overcome the effect.

    How did vulnerable people manage to get by before mobile phones!?

  • nvelope2003 21st Sep '16 - 8:28pm

    Well you have made my point for me. Need I say more.

  • James Brough 21st Sep '16 - 8:28pm

    I had a run in with a member of a fringe group. On Saturday I was standing by their stall talking to a friend – and this person started to ask whether I was a member. As the person with the database wasnt there, he wasn’t able to check. I was back at the stall on Sunday and the same person grabbed my conference pass which was round my neck, and started shouting my name at the person with the membership list and then demanding that I join and hand over the membership fee. I should say that the other people running the stall looked horribly embarrassed at his behaviour.

    I was already having a bad day – I’ve been ill recently – and gave up on the conference for the day and went home. Following day, I mentioned this to a steward who looked at me blankly and enquired what I expected him to do about it. After that, I pretty much gave up on the conference altogether.

  • Barry Snelson 21st Sep '16 - 8:28pm

    I am sure this issue was aired after last year’s conference and the men need to catch up with the world of business and stop it.
    Inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour is defined by the one on the receiving end and not by the sender.
    The sender may think it harmless and friendly. So what? If the recipient thinks otherwise then it’s otherwise.
    The rules in business are – think before you speak and restrict any physical contact to polite handshakes. A political party must have very similar legal vulnerabilities to a corporation. If you want to know what the past looked like watch an episode of “On the Buses”. Times have changed and so must we.

  • And blocking individual phones unless the user pays some money would be impossible for the hotel to achieve, regardless of the illegality.

  • nvelope2003 21st Sep '16 - 8:32pm

    James Brough : I had a similar experience some years ago. I have never attended a conference since. Things like that make you wonder if this party is worth bothering with. What sort of people behave like that ?

  • Erm, can someone explain how it’s possible to block a particular mobile phone’s reception inside a building but not to block the reception of someoe else’s phone who happens to have paid for the wireless internet access?

  • Sarah Brown 21st Sep '16 - 8:38pm

    *sigh* this conference I had a man grope my breasts. Last autumn conference started a series of events that led to a man sending me inappropriate gifts through the post, and no – I hadn’t given him my address. I felt so scared and degraded that I missed spring conference. I braved this conference and yes I had a great time but this was soured by my horrible experiences and left me at times having panic attacks as I was so afraid I would have to speak to my former harrasser. Added to issues with there being no named person at conference to raise issues with, I felt so vulnerable. Added to man splainers and being spoken over, I am fed up.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Sep '16 - 8:50pm

    Just to say that, for myself as a lone woman at Brighton, I really appreciated the friendly and courteous responses of all the men, young, middle-aged or older, whom I happened to sit next to in the main debates and fringe meetings and in the Hilton bar and started to talk to. Some good conversations to back up some great debates! Glee Club as much fun as its name, too, no wonder you won over at least one of the Times journalists! My only regret is that I didn’t come across some of the chaps and chappesses who write so well in LDV. to pursue the topics aired here even further.

  • James Brough 21st Sep '16 - 9:01pm

    Sarah – that’s really nasty. I hope you’re OK.

  • Alison Whelan 21st Sep '16 - 9:13pm

    Why is that every time this kind of issue is raised that there are so many people denying that there is anything wrong?

    Perhaps I can add my own experience from one event during conference. A particular man gave his (uninvited!) view on a particular issue and I explained why I disagreed. He then persisted in pushing his point of view, which I allowed and then he started raising his voice and talking as soon as I started talking to oppose his position – denying me the right to express my opinion.

    This continued for several attempts, after which I simply stated that I refused to engage with him any further as he would not allow me to speak and I walked away.

    Sadly, this is not a rare occurrence.

    I would ask all of you to stop and think how you would feel if denied the right to speak. Take a strong speech you have made and then get someone to start talking louder than you before you have even finished the first sentence.

    Of course, the majority of people were remarkably friendly and considerate and made conference a wonderful experience.

  • simon mcgrath 21st Sep '16 - 9:15pm

    I was staying at the Metropole and no they weren’t blocking mobile phones.

  • Thanks, Alison, for sharing your experience.

    You are right that most people at Conference are absolutely fantastic. That’s why we all go back year after year.

    There are a few people who do behave in this sort of way and that does sour things a little bit sometimes.

    I don’t think the Lib Dems are any more sexist than wider society but it is disappointing when things like this happen because you feel that we should be better.

  • Christine Jardine 21st Sep '16 - 9:19pm

    ‘Patronizing’ is a judgement which, for me, is most appropriately made by the subject of the comment, and certainly not the person who made it.
    Too many of the comments I read seem to miss the point: If any behavior makes women feel patronized, harassed or vulnerable that’s wrong. No question.

  • Austin Rathe 21st Sep '16 - 9:21pm

    In a stunning turn of events the first comment on an LDV piece about sexism is from a man who dismisses the author’s concerns out of hand.

    It’s not that we haven’t made enough progress, we don’t appear to have made any.

  • Sarah Brown 21st Sep '16 - 9:23pm

    James Brough – I am also sorry to hear of your experiences. I think I saw the incident you mention. I am OK, just angry. Have you considered talking to the pastoral care officer??

  • “it is should be noted it’s unacceptable to refer to a female speaker as “darlin’”, no matter how well you might know that individual. The language is sexist and patronising. While I believe the comment was made in an attempt at a friendliness, it is still derrogatory and quite simply, should be wiped out.”

    While certainly misplaced in a debate there should be some scope for familiarity to lead to words like “darlin” without it automatically leading to “should be wiped out”. Whether that is enough scope to not comment on it as sexist, whether that scope exists in every occasion as sometimes it will be used without any familiarity…it’s very unlikely.

  • @Ryan: I wonder what made you think at the end of reading the piece, ‘What this really needs is for the first comment to be from a man dismissing any sympathy or agreement with any of the points raised’?

  • What happened after this at the previous conference?

  • Completely agree with Alison. I think some of those men commenting above need to just put their phones/laptops down, walk away and reflect on their comments.

    You might have had a completely different experience of conference, but this lady clearly didn’t, and by not displaying empathy and understanding, it just makes people want to leave the party and we end up being labelled a party full of pervs. Some decorum please gents. Let her be heard and in a space where she isn’t ignored or mocked.

  • Whether you think the complaints in this article are important or not (I think they are) she never says that this is the complete account of all sexism this year at conference. She is describing one day. There will, undoubtedly, be dozens and dozens of other serious complaints from other women at conference (such as the comment here from a woman saying that she was groped, I’m so sorry that that happened Sarah).

    I don’t get why so many people try to deny sexism absolutely every time anyone tries to bring it up. What is it that makes you think that Lib Dem Conferencers are somehow above sexist behaviour?

  • James Brough 21st Sep '16 - 9:48pm

    Sarah Brown – To be honest, until reading this I’d pretty much decided I just wasn’t up to making any type of complaint about it. I really don’t know whether I will or not.

    Glad youre ok. Angry is a good response to what happened to you. There’s no reason you or anyone else should have this crap to put up with.

  • Stevan Rose 21st Sep '16 - 9:51pm

    “The sender may think it harmless and friendly. So what? If the recipient thinks otherwise then it’s otherwise.”

    Sorry but it’s two ways and depends on context. If the recipient is aware that the sender intends no offence and is simply being friendly then to deliberately take offence and respond with a reprimand is incredibly rude and likely to seriously upset the sender unnecessarily.

    It’s pretty normal for shop staff, receptionists, bar staff, nurses, or strangers at a bus stop etc round here to call everyone “love”, it’s just being friendly, it’s completely inoffensive, and those who take offence may as well pack up and leave town because you’re likely to be continually offended and get zero sympathy. In business or other context where the comment might appear patronising or sexist then it’s a no-no but even then it’s not absolute. I used to (quite recently) have a boss (female) who would sometimes call me “sweetie” which was a little odd first time but context and tone are all important, she was a lovely lady to work for. Personally I wasn’t brought up in a family prone to use those sort of terms so I don’t.

    The story doesn’t give much in the way of context, tone, etc. and, on their own, words, even darlin’ in banter between good friends, can be fine – be careful about being offended on someone else’s behalf. Cameron’s calm down dear was wrong, one half of a couple saying the same to an agitated partner is OK and frankly none of your business.

  • Allan Heron 21st Sep '16 - 9:54pm


    Outside major hotel : Check

    Major UK city : Check


  • I find myself agreeing with the person who has written this article, highlighting the need for a significant cultural change.

    I’m also finding myself struggling to comprehend some of the attitudes being expressed by a few of the commenters. Why is it so hard to accept that any behaviour that clearly leads to others feeling harassed, dehumanised, or patronised is best avoided?

    Sorry to hear of this person’s experiences – and Sarah Brown’s. While I don’t like to read of such experiences I’m pleased they’ve spoken out. Sarah’s suggestion that we have a named person at conferences to approach about such things is something that deserves serious consideration.

  • @Stevan Rose: If I tread on someone’s foot accidentally, it hurts them. I haven’t meant to hurt them, but, either through carelessness or pure chance, I’ve caused them pain. I apologise.

    Similarly, if you find that something you have said has caused unintended offence, then you should also apologise. I don’t believe for one minute that the person who said it had any malevolent, sexist intent, but that doesn’t make what he said any the less out of order. We all slip up at times and when we do, we need to acknowledge it and move on.

  • Can I just leave this one here, too. This is an account of one young woman’s first Scottish conference and some of the crap she had to face in a room of 300 people over two days.


    This party needs to do more to change its culture.

  • To those saying “you shouldn’t take offence on someone else’s behalf” re the “darlin'” comment – which IMHO is not a valid criticism, but let’s pretend for a moment it is an unarguably valid criticism – the article has an anonymous author. How do YOU know that’s what’s happening? How do you know the anonymous author of this article wasn’t the recipient of the comment?

    Like Caron, I am absolutely certain that the person who made this comment had no sexist intent when addressing his friend, and I have found reading all this quite hurtful; I’m sure that if/when he reads it he will feel far worse.

    Mission accomplished, I guess?

  • @Caron, treading on somebody’s foot unintentionally is an accident, obvious, and an apology is always in order. My doctor’s receptionist or the district nurse calling me “love” isn’t being disrespectful, just friendly. I don’t mind in the least and I know of no-one who would – it’s normal here and not a slip up. If you don’t like it, ignore it but you’re not in pain at all so don’t upset her by telling her off; that is incredibly rude. It’s about context.

    On the face of it what was said at conference sounds wrong, and a few drinks can make people a little careless with their words – when that happens, apologies for unintentional offence are the right course of action.

  • Mary Regnier-Wilson 21st Sep '16 - 10:57pm

    I have to say I had a far more positive experience at conference this year than either last autumn or spring. But maybe that’s just because I’ve already encountered all the idiots and told them where to go.
    And yes I agree that “darlin” “love” “sweetheart” etc can be used in a perfectly non patronising way. But not from a conference podium. Used in a one to one situation they are terms of endearment (or in my case indicative of my inability to remember names when inebriated), used as a public address they are a put down.
    I did have to remostrate with one coference goer (who I knew slightly before) for calling me bossy. He meant it as a compliment, and I am an ultra organized efficient machine at times. But when I explained that bossy feels like a gendered term of criticism to women (and before any of you protest, when was the last time you called a man bossy?) he was intelligent enough, and liberal enough, to take my point on board and not repeat it. And whilst I do despair that the first comment on here was a man dismissing a woman’s pov, it alos cheers me that there are plenty of men telling him he’s wrong. Eventually the antideluvian attitides will die out, and in the meantime, I’ll spend my nights in the conference bar with people who are interested in discussing campaigns with me not staring at my tits.

  • To add to the phone comments. As others have said it is not physically easy, legal but also not good business. It may be a natural dead spot for phone reception but also may be due to the number of phones close the the relevant towers. The Orlando vigil in Soho had a gradual drop in signal until it disappeared all together when the crowd got too big.

    It is unlikely that the conference organisers could plan to be able to find a venue that would always have phone coverage.

  • Phil O'Rourke 21st Sep '16 - 11:08pm

    This was my first conference. I found everyone I met welcoming, pleasant and respectful. I certainly did not see patronising or disrespectful behaviour on any of the four days I was there. In addition, my phone worked perfectly in the hotel. I was not a guest of the Hilton Metropole. I’m a assuming the person posting this was just unfortunate to have poor reception.

  • Peter Watson 21st Sep '16 - 11:10pm

    This article and the discussion beneath it cover a range of issues and there is the risk of conflating them.
    Some of the behaviour described is obviously sexist (e.g. Sarah Brown), some of it might be rudeness that happened to be directed at a woman but not necessarily because of her gender (e.g. Alison Whelan). Interpretation depends entirely upon context which is not always conveyed in a post. Whether or not the word “darlin” is sexist, rude, friendly, etc. depends on how and why it is used, the rest of the sentence, the tone of voice, the intention, the relationship between the parties, etc. When I say ” ‘ello, darlin’ ” to my daughter it is obviously affectionate, but I can certainly imagine how the article might be describing an incident where it was used in a very demeaning way.
    I think it is important to disentangle these factors as the discussion in this and similar threads can become unnecessarily heated and confusing as people talk at cross-purposes: some can appear dismissive of serious wrongdoing while others can appear overly sensitive to innocent behaviour.
    I’m sure that with a bit more clarity and separation of the issues, it will be easier to build a consensus on how to eradicate clearly unacceptable sexist attitudes and actions and how to improve other interactions with each other.

  • I’m surprised no one has suggested on this thread that Sarah report her incident to the Police. It is sexual assault and should be recorded as such. We all need to call out this behaviour, verbal and physical, doing so when an observer, rather than expecting the recipient to do so sends a more powerful message.

  • David Pocock 21st Sep '16 - 11:16pm

    I think the men and women arguing against the argument do so for the reason that they think they are right or that any point is open to debate, which it should be IMO.

    I am sorry that there have been bad incidents of quite a wide spectrum. The stories if people being groped and stalked are terrible. Is there a complaints channel within the party, it might be useful to link it if someone has experienced that level of trouble.

    As to why men feel the need to resist such posts as these, I myself feel lile I do sometimes; if a post seems to attack my identity as a man it is natural to defend oneself.

    Depends if the post is “this one fellow” or “men” really but if I get the vibe that the poster or replier places me in an out group I will sometimes argue in posts such as these. Also I think there can be an inflation in what is abuse. In this thread we have had stalking and calling someone darling. I think these are by far not the same thing yet it can become conflated together.

    I an sorry a few bad apples spoilt the whole barrel for the writer.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Sep '16 - 11:26pm

    Two things , one , as a man with silvery gold hair and beard, the same age as Nick Clegg, you know, the man without a grey hair but with a bottle of grecian200 maybe , I find the way we appear to people fascinating , and the way others behave to us.

    A man I regularly meet shopping in Sainsburys , he works there and we chat , calls me , young man, as in “Hello , young man !” He only looks in his later fifties, about a decade older than me , and the other day he called me “son!” Regularly here in Nottingham men and women call each other “duck “, and friendly women call me “darling” or “love” in shops !

    As a man in middle age I am glad to be called , son, as a vegetarian concerned about animals , I am glad to have empathy with ducks !

    As for affectionate words , is context not everything , maybe the person apparently causing offence might call me “mate ” , am I to take offence?

    The only trouble with expecting an apology from someone for such things , is where does it lead and end ?!

  • If someone says your behaviour is making them uncomfortable and patronising, the appropriate action is to examine your behaviour. You may not intend to make someone uncomfortable, but if you do, you should try to take steps to not make people uncomfortable in the future.

  • @Martin and @Stevan, If someone addressed me in a way I found uncomfortable, I would ask them not to do that. If they persisted , that would be unacceptably rude. It’s up to people what level of familiarity they feel comfortable with.

    You have to let people decide for themselves.

  • I wasn’t at conference this year. I just thought I would relate my experiences of being a councillor for a very down to earth ward in the West. Most of the more mature ladies who know me would commonly call me Darlin’ or My love. Coming from a middle class background I did initially find this a bit un-nerving, but gradually got used to it and admit publicly I got to the stage of responding occasionally darlin’ back, but never my love. I would never do that in any public meeting, but just became inured to the normal culture of the area I represented for many years. I do understand it can cause offence, but many of these ladies seem to believe you are more understanding if you engage in the way mentioned. When one is addressed as above it seems almost a statement of acceptance. Younger women do not address me in this manner. It does seem to be related to age.

    The comments here have made me more aware of what I have become used to doing. Just wondered how others feel about this?

  • David Pocock 21st Sep '16 - 11:49pm

    The rub is Sarah what if their behaviour was completely acceptable and someone said it made them feel uncomfortable. I understand your point but your conclusion can be used for purposes other than intended and quite often is is to shame or shut down someone.

  • I’m reading all this stuff about a man calling a woman “darlin” at a public conference, and I have just come home from an engineering conference. There are a fair number of sexist men in engineering, most of whom self-identify by expressing vituperatively sexist views but only when in all-male company. So how do we engineers cope in public?

    Well, we had a number of female speakers (a minority, of course, we are engineers after all!) at our conference. None of them were called “darling” in public, nor were any of them dismissed with sexist comments. (Occasionally, admittedly I have heard older men in engineering use exaggerated politeness toward women speakers, probably out of embarassment. That is indeed behaviour which tends to embarrass women, but it does not actually cause offence as such, since it is clearly a painfully sincere attempt by the man to show respect.)

    I think that if a man at an engineering conference were to use dismissive sexist comments in public, there would be some audible intakes of breath around the conference call, from both sexes. It would be widely recognised as bad behaviour. That’s why it is so rare – people know that they wouldn’t get away with it.

    Surely Liberal Democrats ought to be able to match the just-about-adequate standards which (in my view) engineers do generally achieve?

  • Overall I would agree with Sarah Noble and Caron Lindsey, if your behaviour or the way you address someone makes them uncomfortable you should stop. However, we have to be realistic. If I met Sarah or Caron and referred to them as “luv” or “darling” they may well take offence and I would apologise and stop. However, if you hold next years conference in Manchester you will be referred to as “luv” in nearly every shop, cafe, bar etc in the city. It is a term that is commonly used everywhere – by both sexes – and they won’t stop using it just because the Lib Dems are in town. So it’s basic manners alongside a little commonsense and a touch of live and let live.

  • @Malc: I get called “hen” up here all the time. I don’t particularly like it. There is something very different about the look of a man, from a public platform, referring to a female speaker as “darlin.” Now I know for sure that the man who did it is a decent human being and did not mean it in a sexist way. But it wasn’t a great look. I can’t imagine for a minute he’ll ever do anything like that again. I’m not entirely sure he even meant to do it this time – sometimes things just slip out. It’s a shame that we’re talking about this, because the broader point he was making was actually quite funny, if a bit in-jokey.

  • @Lorenzo Cherin – it’s the same in Leicester where you hear “me duck” everywhere but no resident would regard this as patronizing or choose to be offended by it. Back in the mid-1980’s I was canvassing in Leicester and a man opened the door accompanied by a dog which barked loudly. The man said “Be quiet, me duck!” to the dog. As a recently arrived student unfamiliar with the local vernacular I found this mildly confusing.

  • Dave G Fawcett 22nd Sep '16 - 12:42am

    In the end I couldn’t be F***** (bothered: the original word in my mind was MUCH stronger but I didn’t want to be blocked) to read every post in this thread. I read enough to be able to make one comment though. I am an elderly, gay disabled man who has been out and proud for over 50 years) and I see so many comments on this thread attempting to defend what’s, in the end, is sexist, or homophobic language. I have had 50 + years of homophobia and I can spot sexist, homophobic or racist attitudes from many miles away. The person who started this thread did so to raise a serious concern and we should be supporting that view. Stop it everyone. We are a Liberal party. We should not even be debating this kind of issue. People within the party who make comments which are being debated now need to be educated (or chucked out of the party). There is no place for sexism, racism or homophobia in the party which I am proud to be a member of

  • Charley Hasted 22nd Sep '16 - 1:01am

    Ryan I was attacked outside the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool 6 years ago at a conference of 300 people contained entirely within the hotel. I also once endured a half hour sexual assault at the top of Whitehall. It’s not so very long since a man was murdered in Trafalgar square and another on the south bank in homophobic attacks.
    The size of the hotel or it’s geographical location are stunningly irrelevant attacks can and do happen anywhere. It is astoundingly irresponsible of the party to use venues which force party members into unsafe situations.

  • Caron Lindsay

    I agree that the term “darling” is not appropriate in a professional environment. However, if it was out of character and the guy clearly didn’t mean any offence – in my opinion – it’s better to just let it go. It happened to me once when I was in the RAF. I was at a meeting and there was a female Air Commodore present who was the senior rank there. My brains flew out of the window for a minute – as often happens – and my Manchester upbringing kicked in and I addressed her as “luv”. Thankfully she found my discomfort extremely funny and nearly wet herself. I was promoted shortly after so she obviously didn’t hold it against me.

  • Sarah Taylor 22nd Sep '16 - 1:28am

    Bravo LibDem HQ for sending out that email just before conference which made it perfectly clear what is and isn’t acceptable.

    There is no threat at all to popular language and regional customs. People can speak however they like in private. But at conference or when engaged in political activity people must behave as if they were in a professional business setting. It’s not complicated.

  • Dear Anonymous Conference-goer, I am sorry these events occurred, apologies are deserved. I for one agree with you that “safety should not be dependent on your ability to pay extortionate prices for mobile access.” I agree to endeavour to “be confident in standing up to sexism, even when disguised as banter or familiarity, and work towards a more equal society.” Thank you for sharing, we need more light illuminateing that which has for too long been overlooked.

  • I think I shall come to the conference next year. ( I was hoping to come this year but had to change my plans). Of course as a teetotaler I will expect plenty of temperance.

  • @Mark

    Nothing made me think that. I just happened to be first. Should I have waited until a traffic light went green, allowing men to comment?

    I also think my comments were specific to a couple of identified points, and were not a general attack on the author or the wider point that conference should be a place of inclusivity. I just objected to a couple of the points and stated why.

    I am glad however, that people fell free to label me a misogynist and sexist with impunity. That is what a free debate is.

  • This discussion is all over the place. I’ed agree with David Parry, it is interesting how few people thought that someone who was a victim of a crime should be advised to report it. Clearly it is up to Sarah if she wants too but I’ed always suggest it.

    Sarah Brown

    I hope you are OK. I don’t know what mechanism is in place to deal with your previous experience (which I would find more worrying, given the address issue). I would have hoped that there would be informal networks that would have helped but I don’t think soft power is something the LibDems do.

  • grahame lamb 22nd Sep '16 - 8:21am

    It is none of my business really but there are many issues here (many and varied) which might constructively be addressed by the Federal Executive Committee, the Conference organisers, and indeed the President herself. Worth considering, wouldn’t you say?

  • Barry Snelson 22nd Sep '16 - 8:21am

    “Sorry but it’s two ways and depends on context. If the recipient is aware that the sender intends no offence and is simply being friendly then to deliberately take offence and respond with a reprimand is incredibly rude and likely to seriously upset the sender unnecessarily.”

    You are exactly correct and the context here is an extremely official party conference where all interactions have to operate to the rules of modern business. I can be ‘friendly’, to your definition, in my local shop and sports and social gathering.
    Different context different rules.

    I am surprised, and disappointed, that this topic comes up regularly. The leadership have a duty of care here and if a member feels offended, at any official, or even semi official event such as a ‘badged’ night out, then offended they have been, no debate or question.

    The ‘context’ here being that they are under the ‘protection’ of their ‘directors’ who stand responsible.

    They had better, in my view, get a grip of this, and declare some clear behavioural rules with appropriate sanction for infringement. Casual and friendly doesn’t cut it any more. Polite and formal is current business etiquette.

  • Peter Watson
    I’d agree, as so often people are conflating issues. The serious events of a deliberate act is breezed over by most people (but with a few offering sympathy).

  • @Ryan M I had hoped that reading some of the comments might have encouraged you to reflect on your behaviour and the effect that your posting has had. It was a very aggressive post and it dismissed out of hand some of the points that she made.

    Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. There are plenty men who have commented on this thread in a supportive manner. Perhaps you could learn something from the way that they have approached this.

    If you are not able to comment in a more respectful manner, then you should take no further part in this thread.

  • Yet again see the weird bimodal distribution of positions. Of course you need a level of formality at a large conference (for more reasons than just this discussion), particularly from the podium (a point that was not clear from original post), but many of these comments go way beyond that.
    It appears that normal human interaction has gone out of the window in the LibDems. In everyday life if someone says some thing that bothers you the best reaction is to explain to that person why and leave it at that, normally they will apologise for the upset and sometimes clarify what they were trying to express. Instead of this we have people choosing to take a comment they knew had no malicious meaning (may have been a slip in formality, may have been an attempt to be friendly) and describes it as:
    “derrogatory and quite simply, should be wiped out. It’s on a par to David Cameron’s “calm down dear” episode at PMQs”
    Then some people push back on the unsympathetic interpretation and do so rather more harshly and we end up in this down ward spiral.
    It reminds me of how the LibDems are perceived to act towards the electorate, those who favoured leave in the EU referendum were regarded in an uncharitable way and in response they don’t care what the LibDems think. Strange as I have seen LibDems have little issue with accepting that those who make mistakes in benefit claims are not malicious and should be treated reasonably but many seem to have an issue with applying that approach to others interpersonal interactions.

  • Hannah Bettsworth 22nd Sep '16 - 9:36am

    “When a Uruguayan and a Spaniard talk to each other they may assume they are speaking the same language, yet both could be discomforted by the register used.”

    Uruguayans tend to use ‘vos’ for the singular familiar form and ‘ustedes’ as both formal and informal plural. Considering that the Spaniard understands ‘ustedes’ to be a solely formal plural and they would know that ‘vos’ means the same as ‘tú’ from listening to Latin American music even if they somehow hadn’t learned it elsewhere, there would be very little chance for offence in that situation and it doesn’t really bear resemblance to the use of regional colloquialisms in British English.

    Regional and class differences in Spanish tend to refer to how and whether you pronounce certain letters in a word.

    This is more equivalent to the difference between someone calling you ‘guapa’ (pretty lady, also used as a greeting among friends) during a transaction in a shop and someone calling you it in a political context. I’ll accept the former but I would take the latter (however well intentioned) as somewhat unprofessional!

  • Caron, what is your view on being called “darling” by the shop assiatents when you purchase at the till, I reckon I have been referred to in that way 20 times at the local Co Op in the past week. I quite like it!!!!!!!

  • As a man here in Bristol I am constantly being referred to as ‘my lovely’ by female bar staff and shop assistants. I have never thought about it before but I am now wondering if I should tell them to stop?

  • Caron . What in particular did you find aggressive about Ryan’s post? You object to his ” behaviour ” – exactly what behaviour should he be reflecting on? I find much of the tone of some of these comments illiberal. Oh and Caron – I find your demand that Ryan should abstain from commenting further on this thread quite intimidating and threatening. that is how I feel .

  • Paul Walter

    “Would any man address Angela Merkel as “darlin”? No. It’s wrong for all women (apart from family members) and in that situation the person that did it should apologise, try not to repeat it and move on.”

    At a guess I would say the vast majority of the UK’s population – male and female – use terms like darling, luv, hen, duck, mate, pet etc on a fairly regular basis. It isn’t going to change and I seriously doubt most people want it to. It shouldn’t happen in a professional situation, but otherwise it does no harm – even if a few find it slightly annoying.

  • @Theakes. I have often found nurses in care homes and hospitals saying ‘darling’ in a way that made myself or my relative (the patient) feel uncomfortable. Yet, I and my relatives have learned simply to put up with that and other worse comments so long as it is clear that any bad feelings were not intended. However, I accept that other people are not as able to endure it and for their sakes, it would be useful to have someone they can turn to in order to talk about it. When action against someone happens, then that is more serious and a chief steward to contact should be provided.

  • @David: When a woman writes a post outlining examples of sexism, as sure as eggs is eggs, a man will come along and dismiss what she said, usually in quite an aggressive manner. That’s what happened on this occasion. He was given a chance to moderate his tone and reflect on what he had said.

    If anyone is going to continue with that sort of rudeness, which is not allowed by our comments policy, then they will not be allowed to continue to participate in the discussion.

  • Shouldn’t the chair of the session have the power to intervene, point out the choice of language is inappropriate for the floor of conference and ask the speaker to apologise and rephrase their remarks? It sounds like they would have happily done so, avoiding any further embarrassment or incident.

  • Caron: unfortunately you have chosen not to answer my question. Exactly what do you mean by “an aggressive manner”? Again I have to say I find your comments, in restricting his freedom of speech, quite intimidating and threatening. So again I will ask what do you object to in his behaviour and which parts of his comments did you find aggressive? As someone who has not been to conference for a very long time I find Sarah browns experience of having her breasts groped very worrying. What has been the police response? Is our pastoral officer investigating this horrifying incident. Has the perpetrator been identified? Can he or she be identified? I admire Sarah’s bravery in going public and I hope she can keep us informed of any developments. It certainly puts me off attending if this kind of behaviour is being allowed to occur unpunished.

  • This has wandered all over the place.
    Platform speakers are at first gaining extra experience and composure so doing anything that might not be supportive is unhelpful. The speaker in this case will not have been harmed but might be hopping mad.
    Discussions whether in bars or fringe meetings may be more robust occasionally. This can be useful. If you are seeking election in a Labour area, it will come in handy. I am not sure LibDems can replicate Tory disdain! I have met a right mix in over 30 years on Labour Councils from some very strange men. ‘Long black gloves’ reaction can work wonders. I have had unexpected and unsought apologies.

  • @David: This, for a start:

    Is this a party political conference or a meeting of a pre-school?

    And then there was the “What gives you the right to decide?”

    There is no need for that.

    We require politeness and as moderators we have a right to point out when that standard has not been met and what the consequences will be if it doesn’t change.

    There are some people who seem to think that they have some sort of inalienable right to abuse others. When people behave in that sort of dismissive, aggressive manner, they put other people off from participating and the sort of people they put off are more likely to be women. Aggression is a technique often used by men to silence women and secure the public space for themselves. It’s not something we will put up with here.

  • Obviously your definition of what counts as being aggressive Caron is different from mine. It might be helpful therefore if LDV could provide us with a definition that we could at least all be aware of. I won’t comment anymore on this thread as I think we are all becoming a little distracted from the main issue. And to me the main issue to come out of the thread is that one of our members has been groped at conference. I do hope that this is being looked into by all concerned as a matter of urgency. Ie conference organisers, the police, LDV – who published the comment , and of course our own pastoral officer.

  • @David. I read one of your comments on the side bar, knowing nothing about this thread & my immeidiate response was “Ooh, thats a bit agressive”. I dont know how you acheived thay effect but you need not worry – if an agressive tone is what you were aiming for then you nailed it.

  • Paul Barker

    So an “aggressive tone” is asking for an answer to a question previously avoided. Cool, got it. Not sure it is conducive to discussion, but it is at least specific.

  • David Allen 22nd Sep '16 - 1:34pm


    I’m not sure which I like less – Ryan’s aggressive comments, or your response to them.

    Your attitude simply has no place in a democratic political party. It is a form of no-platforming. It is an attempt to defeat people presenting a view you don’t like by denying them freedom of expression and pretending that they do not exist.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Sep '16 - 1:37pm

    @paul barker “@David. I read one of your comments on the side bar, knowing nothing about this thread & my immeidiate response was “Ooh, thats a bit agressive”.”
    An interesting new development.
    I thought that david was defending comments by Ryan McAlister (a.k.a Ryan M?) from an accusation of aggressiveness (it was Ryan that Caron quotes above).

  • nick cotter 22nd Sep '16 - 1:51pm

    I am not sure I have seen any particularly “aggressive” comments on this thread. It has proved to be an Interesting and Informative debate ……
    As a lawyer working in the criminal justice system I would always encourage anyone who has been a victim of crime to report it ….
    We do have to be a bit careful here though, our criminal justice system has already encroached on to the territory of “thought” crimes ?
    I regularly get called “my sweet” or “my love” by a female lawyer who works for the CPS I take no offence, and am sure none is Intended ? !

  • Being over-familiar to either sex from a public platform is just bad form….Cameron’s, “Calm down, dear” is patronising and demeans him rather than her….
    However, in conversation, if I’m called ‘dear’ or, ‘love’ or ‘darling’, I let it pass…I believe ‘making an issue of it’ would make me look pedantic and crass…

    Perhaps, concentrating on more serious issues of discrimination would be a far better use of time and effort?

  • Paul Walters

    “I am presuming that you class making a formal podium speech in front of an audience of hundreds, with thousands watching online, being part of a national political party’s policy making mechanisms, as a “professional situation”.

    I do indeed. Your “it’s OK for family bit” made me think you were talking about generally and not just professional situations.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Sep '16 - 2:57pm

    I thought Ryan’s post was quite aggressive and actually told a friend about it on the way home from football saying he’s just told her to basically get over it and now it’s going to kick off.

    I’ve made aggressive posts in the past and I think whilst they are unacceptable they are often a symptom of someone wanting to make a broader point but not knowing where to make it and it ends up coming out in an inappropriate place.

    Sorry to hear about the examples of sexism and abuse in this thread.

  • Barry Snelson 22nd Sep '16 - 3:34pm

    Many of the voices here are drawing completely invalid parallels.
    Of course ‘darling’, ‘my dear’, ‘love’, my duck’ and even Paul’s ‘moy berd, moy arnsum’ are fine in shops and between friends.
    But they wouldn’t be fine around the Board table at Intel or Microsoft.

    This topic comes up again and again and it shows weak management and direction. The leadership should clearly and emphatically declare the standards and for those men who claim this harmless banter makes the world go round my advice is find another planet to orbit.

    What two LibDems say to each other in a pub half a mile away is their business but on “Company” time and on “Company” premises engaged on “Company” business then “Company” rules apply.

    If this isn’t acted on and modern standards applied this embarrassing topic will reappear over and over again.

  • Sue Sutherland 22nd Sep '16 - 4:01pm

    I’m glad some sensible ideas have come out of this sad story such as providing officials to talk to and training those chairing at conference, but I think we all have to take responsibility to stand up to abusers and tell them their behaviour is wrong. Then the person who is being abused, whether male or female, won’t feel so isolated and the question of whether or not someone is taking things the wrong way, which seems to have exercised so many commentators here, won’t arise. There have been some useful tips on Facebook about what to do if you see someone being racially abused so perhaps some guidance could be given to Party members about how to react when you see someone indulging in unacceptable behaviour towards another person when engaged in party activity.

  • Sal Brinton 22nd Sep '16 - 5:06pm

    As Party President, I’d like to respond to some of the points raised, but start with a general point. I am sorry that there are any incidents that leave members feeling uncomfortable, harassed, and even (I am sorry to say) assaulted at Federal Conference and I want to reiterate the point that any incident that is sexist, racist, homophobic, or targets disabled people is absolutely unacceptable, and the party is very keen that incidents are reported. At the end of this comment, I will put details of how to do that.

    I have talked to Andrew Wiseman, Chair of the Federal Conference Committee, and he and I are agreed that the issues raised here and any others that we have heard about, both formally and informally, will be discussed with the appropriate people and bodies (ie Federal Executive, Federal Conference Committee, the Chief Steward and the Chief Executive), to ensure that they are followed through and lessons learned, including training in recognising and helping those seeking assistance after an incident.

    Hwyel asks about what happened following the very public complaints at the York Conference from a number of Liberal Youth (LY) women. The Pastoral Care Officer talked to the women, and I also went to the LY Conference in Edinburgh to hear more from them and other LY members, including men, about what we need to do to create a safe space in the party for people. I am very grateful to them all for their frankness.

    Sarah’s incident sounds horrible, and she’s been talking to the Pastoral Care Officer, myself and others about it. We are determined to identify who this was so that we can establish what needs to happen next.

    ‘Next’ for incidents might be an internal party discipline process, if appropriate mediation (& sometimes that isn’t appropriate – we get that!), or encouraging those involved to report it to the police, whether the target or witnesses.

    Unfortunately, as a general rule, not many complainants are prepared to let us take it further, either internally or to the police. I completely respect their position, but it is very frustrating when we are trying to stop inappropriate incidents, or worse, possible crimes, we cannot do any more.

    That is why we must report and tackle these incidents if we see someone having trouble. Support at the time can often nip things in the bud.

    James Brough reports a problem at a fringe event, and the less than helpful response from a steward. Can I say that is unusual: our stewards will often find someone to help even if they don’t know. Andrew and I will raise this with the Chief Steward. James, if you want to get in touch with me (email at the end) with more details, I will take it up with the relevant party organisation.

    Sarah Brown suggested a named person. I agree. We already have a system in place with the members of Federal Conference Committee being available to help anyone, and stewards and security always know how to find both Andrew Wiseman, and the Conference Manager quickly. Members of FCC have special badges identifying them as FCC, and their photos are in Conference Extra. I know that system works in the Conference Centre and in the Conference Hotel. It’s obviously harder at other venues where we don’t have staff or stewards. I, too, as President am happy to help, and have been approached at conference. Andrew and I work closely together, especially where there may be not just a conference issue but a wider party one.

    This year at the start of Autumn conference FCC sent out an email about appropriate behaviour, including contact details for the Pastoral Care Officer, Jeanne Tarrant, who should be the first port of call for complaints about behaviour such as the one Sarah Brown reported. Andrew Wiseman has received more complaints about the email than either compliments or reporting of incidents. Perhaps that reflects the range of comments above to! However, we are absolutely clear that the party will not tolerate inappropriate behaviour.

    Not all incidents need to be reported to the Pastoral Care Officer – ask Andrew Wiseman if it relates to conference, or to me if it is part of a wider issue beyond just conference.

    So, how do you get in touch? As I said earlier, when at Conference, go immediately to Stewards/Security/hotel reception. They have walkie talkies and the numbers of those you need. You can also contact us as follows:-

    Chair of FCC: Andrew Wiseman [email protected]

    Pastoral Care Officer: Jeanne Tarrant [email protected] tel:07884 733 262

    President: Sal Brinton [email protected]

  • Ryan McAlister 22nd Sep '16 - 5:19pm


    It is your house, Caron. I respect that. I have to say I am deeply disappointed however that you seem to want to suppress any kind of adverse comment. I also object most strongly to you assigning motives to my initial comment that were simply not there.

  • Just a couple of points.

    The email that was sent about behaviour at conference did not make it clear enough that most of the time everything is fine. At least some first time attendees wondered what on earth they were getting into.
    Also, it was unfortunate that there was no access to pastoral support at Conference and that there is no backup for the pastoral support officer when she is off. From the comments already, that looks like it is going to be addressed.
    Most of the regrettable behaviour comes from men and is directed at women. I am glad that so many men in the party are brilliant and stand up against it and would never do it themselves. I am sad that there is a minority of men in our party (of all parties!) who cannot see anything wrong with behaving in ways which women find demeaning, belittling or downright offensive or frightening. Those of you who don’t understand what the problem is should talk to women that you know and ask them.

  • I was not going to post but I’m sorry, I just cannot believe there are so many comments about the use of a particular word rather than about the physical assault on Sarah Brown! Why isn’t everyone, apart from one or two people, expressing their horror that a woman has been assaulted at a LIb Dem event. Why have no charges been pressed? Seriously Lib Dems you need to show ZERO tolerance of women (and men) being physically assaulted, it’s not “groping” it is ASSAULT. What is the matter with you all?

  • Stevan Rose 22nd Sep '16 - 8:44pm

    “When a woman writes a post outlining examples of sexism, as sure as eggs is eggs, a man will come along and dismiss what she said”

    Why is this sexist generalisation acceptable?

    Inappropriate behaviour of the type being discussed is often directed by women towards men, and I can assure you men in that situation are more often laughed at than supported. Some years back as the sole male working in an all female kitchen workplace I was regularly the victim of inappropriate comment and behaviour that made me uncomfortable and at times scared. I’ve never talked about this before because I’m a bloke but I’m too old now to care about being laughed at. Like domestic violence towards men is real, so this particular problem is not exclusive to women and I’m really disappointed to see a comment like that.

  • @Ryan McAllister: So desperate am I to suppress adverse comments that all of yours have appeared.

    @Stevan Rose: You might be better advised to actually listen to the experiences of women rather than dismiss them.

    I’m sorry you had a difficult experience working in a kitchen but I’m not sure how it is relevant to the experiences related here.

    And, yes, domestic violence happens to some men as well, and that’s awful when it does, but there is a massively gendered angle towards it and it is most often men who are the perpetrators. When 2 women a week are being murdered by their partners, it’s not something we can really ignore.

  • @Caron. I have dismissed no-one’s experience of inappropriate sexist behaviour and I would certainly step in to support anyone that was a victim of such behaviour. You, however, dismiss my experience of such behaviour in the workplace as a “difficult experience” but not relevant presumably because I’m male. Thanks for that, now you know why men don’t talk about it. Inappropriate sexist behaviour is deplorable regardless of the gender of offender and victim. Have a good evening.

  • Ryan McAlister 22nd Sep '16 - 10:44pm

    @After pre-moderation… And I think you wilfully miss the point I was making. Again.

  • @Ryan McAllister: All comments to this post are on pre-moderation after some incredibly nasty comments were made directed at the women who had experienced sexual harassment.

  • Dave Orbison 22nd Sep '16 - 11:43pm

    I am just staggered that assaults have taken place seemingly at a number of LibDem conferences. I agree with Phyllis 100%.

    it seems that there was a poor use of language from the podium. I didn’t see it so cannot judge the context. But of all of the posts I find those referring to actual physical assaults are the most extraordinary. It is outrageous that anyone attending conference should be physically assaulted.

    Whilst I do not wish to dismiss the concerns raised as to the use of sexist language intended or otherwise, if that took place, surely assaults warrant an even great level of outrage and are deserving greater attention than it would appear from the posts made.

  • Phyllis

    “Why have no charges been pressed?”

    If incidents aren’t reported to the police there isn’t much they can do.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Sep '16 - 2:21am

    ” Genius can breath freely only in an atmosphere of freedom.”

    John Stuart Mill

    I do not think any prizes for genius are going to emerge as a result of any thinking , however brilliant , on this site , if the thread here is read properly, for the reasons my hero Mill gives , especially after the exchange above, between Caron and Stevan, after a thread , that has, on a discussion about the wrongful use of the word ,darling, led a woman who was assaulted at conference , to not be the main concern when it was revealed on here, a man who was intimidated at conference , to not be the next concern on here, and more than one man known for their decency by most of us regulars,to feel condescended on here!

    If an apology for the use of a word many on here have genuinely agreed is inappropriately used in the context the author of the article correctly describes, is expected or called for , it is , according to Caron , to be expected in any context someone feels they have been offended by someone . I am not sure I agree, as a Liberal, but as a Democrat I am up for being persuaded. In which case is our editor going to apologise to one or two people above ? Or are other apologies necessary ?

    ” If all mankind , minus one , were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person,
    than he , if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

    John Stuart Mill

    ” Apologies for the use of mankind .”

    Lorenzo Cherin

  • grahame lamb 23rd Sep '16 - 8:06am

    I think Sal Brinton’ s intervention and statement was both desirable and deserving of respect. And I, for one, respectfully commend it to all readers of these pages.

  • These discussions always make me feel uncomfortable. As a male brought up in the 1950s, albeit by fairly enlightened parents, I know that I have the cultural attitudes of the era hard-wired into me. When my partner and I got together 37 years ago I thought, as a Young Liberal, that I was a feminist. She wasn’t really aware of feminism then but I liked to think that I opened her eyes to the idea (and yes, I am aware of how patronising I was). It is never comfortable to have one’s ideas about oneself challenged and confounded, but my attitudes and behaviour over the years have, in retrospect, clearly been sexist in ways that I simply wasn’t aware of until they were pointed out to me, and even then I would usually resist that interpretation. Having daughters and watching them grow to be women has shown me how far our society still has to travel before there is even a semblance of gender balance. One small example: last week Political Betting had an article on ‘What we have learned about Theresa May after her first 60 days’. I mentioned to my partner that the article said that she dithers. An innocent enough word, but she pointed out how freighted with sexism that is when a woman is accused of it, something that simply had not occurred to me. We are in a period of transition, I hope.

  • Seriously, this is all over the place.


    Stevan Rose described his experience as making him “uncomfortable and at times scared” and you describe it as a “difficult experience” I would have no problem with that if it weren’t for the fact that is he were a different gender I can imagine you shouting down someone else doing that if the genders were reversed. The point that Stevan appeared to be making was that some of the “difficult situations” are experienced by both genders from both genders. No one has dismissed that the worse examples have been from women (some such as Phyllis and Peter Watson has asked why so many have breezed straight past the serious to focus on unintended offense).

    As you brought up domestic violence stats. You say that they are: “massively gendered” towards women, well I think the stats were approximately 60% of victims are Women and 40% are Men, not sure it is “massive” but certainly is a significant majority. As for your stat on deaths indeed about two people a week are killed by a partner/ex each week, each fortnight about three will be female and one male.

  • The expression “man splainers” is explicitly sexist and shouldn’t have been allowed.

  • tonyhill 23rd Sep ’16 – 8:19am……………… One small example: last week Political Betting had an article on ‘What we have learned about Theresa May after her first 60 days’. I mentioned to my partner that the article said that she dithers. An innocent enough word, but she pointed out how freighted with sexism that is when a woman is accused of it, something that simply had not occurred to me. We are in a period of transition, I hope……

    Why would it occur to you? Hollande and Obama are regularly accused of being ‘ditherers’… Still, I suppose that ‘sexism’ can be found in anything; if you look hard enough..

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 23rd Sep '16 - 11:09am

    Dear Colleagues,

    Inappropriate sexist behaviour is a reality within our Party and I have had to step in and challenge this, as have others, on more than a few occasions, and I have even had to speak with the police before now.

    Our sisters have a right to be unmolested verbally, physically and emotionally at ALL times, but alas there exists predators within our membership that will abuse any opportunity.

    We all have a duty of care for each and every member. The culture of misogyny will only be eradicated when we collectively choose to thwart such odious behaviour.

    We are the Party of ‘equality, fairness and justice’ so lets demonstrate this to our Sisters!


    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

  • @Angry Steve: the term mansplaining is a perfectly valid term to describe behaviour often experienced by women from men. There’s an interesting article today on the subject. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/advice-columnist-amy-dickinson-mansplaining_us_57e40f5ae4b0e80b1ba0c7f4

  • @Psi: the figures you quote are slightly more nuanced than you suggest. From Domestic Violence London:


    “Home Office figures reveal that on average, 100 women a year and around 30 men a year are killed within a domestic abuse context. Women are almost exclusively killed by men whereas in contrast approximately one third of the men are killed by other men and a little under a third are killed by women against whom they have a documented history of abuse.”

    I think it is important to emphasise that it is not as simple as you suggest.

  • @Caron Lindsay

    The use of the word mansplaining is explicitly sexist and I find it offensive. It is a means of dismissing someone’s freedom to express their views on the basis of their gender.

  • Dave Orbison 23rd Sep '16 - 12:56pm

    Caron re abuse statistics. The numbers surely are irrelevant. Anyone abused or suffering sexism regardless of gender is one too many and should not be tolerated. Zero tolerance of overt sexism and abuse is clearly unacceptable.

    Stepping back from that there are times when people say things which may or may not have been meant as a sexist remark, or may be perceived as sexist when it was never intended that way.

    In each case the best way to deal with this is to raise the matter with the person. It could diffuse a misunderstanding and it may add to that person’s appreciation of how they may have inadvertently come across.

    Equally rather assume sexism was the intent, by raising this with the person, it avoids individuals coming away having felt offended.

    I realise that it is not always possible but we should use our best endeavours. Having read some of the contributions I feel the temperature of the discussion of a serious issue has been raised unnecessarily as contributors have used a bit of a defensive or accusatory tone which then triggers a knee jerk response.

    For example quoting the stats that men are more responsible for abuse to me is meaningless at best, at worst a sexist generalisation. I am sure this was not intended. But as much as I condone any man for being abusive or sexist I would take exception to being lumped together with them simply because I am a man.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Sep '16 - 1:01pm

    I notice that as soon as someone comments to someone else , if that initial someone is a man , and apparently perceived as being patronising, to the other someone , who is a woman,a new word is invented that everyone feels keen to use , even if men who do not engage in such things or do not feel they do, find it offensive.

    But if a woman , in the case of say , someone with some authority , maybe even in a volunteer situation, such as a website forum, speaks to someone else who is a man , and he finds it patronising and is offended by her , he is either ignored, or the apparent offender is keen to show how it is not so, but either way there is no new word invented .

    Is there not much merit in my quotes above from Mill, his being ignored , on a Liberal site , as with the concerns of some on here , worries me.

  • Sal, thank you, I’ve prodded James to make sure he sees your comment. And thanks to Andrew Wiseman as well.

    Phyllis, I think people concentrated on the “darlin'” comment precisely BECAUSE it’s not as viscerally horrifying as someone being assaulted, and is therefore easier to talk about. This does, you’re right, give the unfortunate impression that people think it’s far more important that we protect people from their friends addressing them informally in formal situations than that we protect people from sexual assault; I don’t actually think a single person who has commented here believes that to be the case, though.

  • Caron 21:22

    “massively gendered”

    Caron 11:43

    “figures you quote are slightly more nuanced than you suggest […] I think it is important to emphasise that it is not as simple as you suggest.”

    You quote a web page with no source for it’s information. I’m referring numbers I pulled off the ONS over a year ago when I came across someone making similar claims to you. The source you are citing gives the impression that it is gay men killing each other but as I was informed by someone else in that discussion gay male couples have the lowest rates of domestic violence. What is often the case is family members/friends are often recruited in to assist. Just because someone recruits an accomplice who was male to help does not excuse their part in a murder.

  • Matt (Bristol) 23rd Sep '16 - 3:05pm

    Speaking as a man, I do mansplain (ie tell women what it is they’re experiencing when they don’t need me to tell them, they know already, and by occupying the airtime I’m denying them their change to express it for themselves). I’m trying to stop it.

    Sal Brinton’s very detailed response to this difficult and worrying thread is great and very reassuring.

    Some of the men on here seem – at least on outward appearances – to feel they are speaking on behalf of all men.

    Instead, Barry Snelson speaks for me, and Jennie Rigg and Caron (among many others) are speaking what appears to me as a Conference outsider to be sound human sense.

    Some day I’d like to go to Conference, and I hope I won’t encounter any of the behaviour described, nor meet people who are worried that they might be at risk of it themselves.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Sep '16 - 3:52pm

    Jennie Rigg

    As often when I see your comments , you have in your recent one , talked absolute sense, no , far better , Liberal sense !

  • Stevan Rose 23rd Sep '16 - 4:54pm

    My apologies to Sarah Brown and thank you Phyllis for pointing it out, I had missed Sarah’s post so fast was this thread moving. I am genuinely horrified that such an assault should happen at a Party event. I hope you are OK.

    As far as I can see no-one in this thread has condoned or excused inappropriate behaviour, let alone assault, and there is universal condemnation for such behaviour, yet it has degenerated into a squabble and the twisting of words and intent. There’s little generosity of spirit or desire to see others’ points of view. I have learned that I never want to go to a Conference, ever. At this moment I don’t think I want to be a member of this Party to be honest; it isn’t supposed to be an unpleasant experience but joint enterprise for common cause. After this thread I’m not sure I want to even vote for a Party that squabbles over perceived nuances on a subject of universal agreement. I don’t want to be angry engaging in a voluntary activity.

  • Lester Holloway 23rd Sep '16 - 6:05pm

    I missed Brighton this year but every conference I’ve attended without fail brings an incident of members (and sometimes security/hotel staff) displaying unacceptable behaviour towards members of colour. I get the impression this is more likely to impact on BAME women. Some incidents are clearly sexism / misogyny and others the victim has felt that race is also a factor. Many do not want to report incidents, fearing the impact on their career / reputation or stemming from a belief that nothing will be done. One incident involved a member stalking a woman pretty much throughout the conference before intimidating and making physical contact at the Glee Club. I’m not suggesting this is commonplace but one incident is too many and it seems to be that there are problems of one sort or another at pretty much every conference. I believe there should be a clear means of reporting and dealing with incidents at conference with a named (and fully trained) staffer always on hand to act.

  • Can we all just agree that no-one should assault another person, of whatever gender, or indeed, of no gender?

    Can we all also agree that it is inappropriate to use familiar terms such as ” darling”, ” love ” etc, regardless of the gender of the speaker or that of the receiver of said term, in a formal meeting and not even outside this unless they know each other well enough to know the person on the receiving end does not mind. Anything else is just plain bad manners.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Sep '16 - 7:02pm

    Stevan Rose

    Please see my attempts to support you in the interaction you had on here, and indeed , attempts to not have views ignored, and attempts till blue in the face , to , as again above , plea for John Stuart Mill, and the Liberal right to a degree of freedom of expression amongst friends and decent people ! Please do not leave this site or this party , you are amongst those who go through pretty much the same feeling , me regularly ! It is a site and a party full of terrific people , with a few exceptions , who we hardly come across. When good people leave , it is a loss to all. The Liberal and Democratic voice is yours as much as any other .

    Mark Wright

    Please see my comments on this thread and those of others like the ever reasonable Phyllis and Hannah , and Barry , and many others generating or trying to, at least, a good discussion , with confusion the problem and incredulity the outcome ,come back regularly , we need you !

    All good men and women and true

    I once worked with my hero , the late , great , Lord , Richard “Dickie Darling ,or Dick”, Attenborough, he called everyone “darling “, for different reasons , firstly he could be very theatrical, secondly , he was very lovely, thirdly, he had so many names to remember on a film set , he thought it a sign of greater equality and generosity if he treated everyone the same way rather than merely address the ones whose names he could remember ! The dearest , least sexist man you could meet ! He probably , or at least possibly , would have said it from the podium , to a man as much as to a woman !

  • Thanks for your response Sal – and your genuine efforts to improve the way the party handles issues relating to conduct by members. But what does say about the confidence people have in any complaints process that even having made public complaints (with all the consequences this can result in) they aren’t followed through with a formal complaint.

    There doesn’t seem to be and monitoring of what happens and why people make an initial ‘informal’ (for want of a better word) complaint to a party staff member which isn’t then followed up with a formal complaint. Nor is there any monitoring of how well people think complaints were dealt with, was communication adequate (both of these are based on my experience).

    With those being absent I really don’t see how the party can make any objective assessment of how well things are being dealt with – simply put no-one knows what is happening. In my experience the party’s handling of such things, still, is that when they aren’t ignored, is that this is done badly.

  • Lorenzo, I do appreciate your support and you are a far more forgiving person than I, but I didn’t sign up to an organisation where the kind of thing related by Sarah and Lester go on, not once but repeatedly, and people twist words and intentions. It’s not the kind of liberalism I aspire to. Neither is the party democratic; it’s very hierarchical and authoritarian with an elite making all the decisions, not what I expected. My membership runs up until next summer so I have no reason to make rash decisions but I doubt I’ll renew as it stands, the bird logo has already gone. I’m probably better off as an independent liberal.

  • Toby Hardwick 24th Sep '16 - 10:02am

    Now I see that Stefan Rose has just said he might leave the Lib Dem. Trying to understand this from what I’ve read, my complaint is that people have thrown around statistics about assaults, bad language and unpleasant conference experiences and giving everyone the impression that the Lib Dem party is more rife with sexism etc than any other walk of life. That must be complete nonsense and I think I’m justified in saying that even if I’ve never been to a sort of conference which I imagine political ones are like. I think everyone simply needs to calm down and remember that every walk of life is full of such things. Some is reported, some not. Every large organisation has to content with it. Political parties are far more sensitive to the problems for the very reason that they are political parties, no? Is anyone here seriously suggesting that a political party has a worse problem than any other large collection of people? The one thing this topic shows us is that the party suffers from over-reaction on both sides of the arguments in this topic as a result of that extra sensitivity, perhaps? Over-reaction or aggression doesn’t help anybody.

  • Toby I think both the Lib Dems and the Labour Party have a big problem with sexism, which should not be played down as ” no more than any other parts of society”. Accepting the status quo is not what I thought Liberals were about. These two parties are the only ones who do not and have never had a woman leader – it is quite something when even those illiberal parties UKIP and the SNP are doing better. There was no Female Cabinet minister in the Coalition government either. One has to ask : what is the Lib Dems (and the Labour Party’s ) problem with women? At the leadership debates in 2020 we will have Theresa, Nicola, Diana, Leanne, Caroline /Jonathon – and Jeremy and Tim. Says it all, doesn’t it?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Sep '16 - 2:38pm

    Stevan Rose

    Thank you for your reaction, you are expressing your feeling on this well, I would welcome more specific explaining if you can in your own way , if you want to, of what you mean by others twisting words and intentions , it was very clear from your interaction above , that you were not treated , in my view with enough respect . So many good and sensitive and strong men , as well as women,are both drawn to politics and put off it.

    Women, and two thirds of my close friends and colleagues, have always been women, who are liberal, rational, political or otherwise , would recognise what I say and do so regularly with me in our interactions. I am not a feminist , but a staunch supporter of women’s rights, for the same reason my close women friends feel the same way. We mostly do not much like “isms”! With the exception of Liberalism, they tend to divide and not unite. In Labour I was not a supporter of socialism but social democracy. I do not have a close female friend or relative who strongly identifies as a feminist . I respect those who do, but , today , for me as a man in young middle age , it would appear or seem like an appropriation of an identity and label that is not mine to have.

    I believe this party to be full of intelligent , decent people who are far more understanding than many . There are people who drive me potty, and I drifted away from it too, and came back. It had more to do with the left of it than the right , I find the left horribly intolerant wherever they are, I did , in Labour when a youth. But most of our left wing are sensible people , and I am centre left on many issues , so , feeling respect and giving it , I make my contribution , more rather than less now , as a solution.

    Stevan, be an independent Liberal and , importantly , Democrat , in this party , and join with those of us who are .

  • Toby Hardwick 24th Sep '16 - 6:27pm

    In response to Phyllis: I believe I suggested that the Lib Dems had no more of a problem than many other large organisations or other parts of society, yes? The party conference is a gathering of rather a lot of people, isn’t it? In which, sadly, some people will behave badly or even illegally? To suggest that the problems are probably of the same sort of level as within something like for example, a large corporation, is not to “downplay them” at all. Sexism, bad behaviour, assaults, drunkenness, etc, take place all through society. “No more than” means exactly the same as “no less than” in this context. Neither does making such a comparison equate to accepting the status quo, as though someone saying “all countries in Europe have a similar a child abuse problem” implied that they thought the UK should do nothing about it because we are “no worse than the others”. Clearly not!

  • Toby , oh yes I understood what you were saying, I simply disagree. I think the Lib Dem, and also the Labour Party, ARE rife with sexism, more so than any other political party. There can be no other explanation for why the leaders roll-call reads Theresa, Nicola, Diane, Leanne, Caroling/Jon and – and Tim and Jeremy.

  • Toby, there is a vast difference between a company with a commercial purpose that has a duty towards diversity, some do it well, others not so well, and a political party that sells itself on it being the ultimate in equality and egalitarianism, that preaches diversity to others when it is incapable of managing its own main event. It isn’t good enough to be no better or worse than any other walk of life. It has to be flawless or it’s hypocrisy, and this appears to be repeat offending.

    Phyllis, Labour has had 2 female leaders, Beckett and Harman, over 3 short spells. They don’t have acting leaders, both formally Leader of the Opposition. And of course longer term Deputy Leaders. Don’t forget the DUP also has a female leader and NI First Minister. So it’s only this party.

    Lorenzo, not sure I can say much more here as it would be way off topic. Maybe elsewhere.

  • Stevan Rose

    I think there are a few issues I think the issue of democracy is not so much as elites setting it as those with lots of time. It has always appeared to me as a structural problem of the party policy making approach progressing since the late 80’s/early 90’s.

    The situations where people seemed to be twisting your words is the same people who normally do. I tend to regard it as people who have over reacted to the “trauma” of the 2015 result, not likely to produce positive outcomes but I think it will have to drop off in the longer term.

    The issue that does seem most concerning is illustrated by Sarah Brown’s second point. It does look as though some informal support mechanisms that normally develop naturally are absent.

    As to the leader question, there were a couple of female MPs who, if they had held their seats could have won the leadership. Sadly none held their seats.

  • Sal – that sounds like worthwhile information but it isn’t addressing the point I was making (which I’ve raised with you before) – namely that there doesn’t seem to be anything done with complainants to identify whether they were happy with the process and if they didn’t make a formal complaint why not.

    That report sounds like an objective one (ie stats of X formal complaints, Y informal, Z resulting in disciplinary etc etc) not a more subjective analysis to try to identify why this is happening. You do of course need both but it doesn’t sound like that latter is being done. If this was Cambridgeshire Council who had a complaints process where there was an issue of people complaining but not using the formal process you’d be wanting to know why.

  • Ruth Bright 26th Sep '16 - 1:13pm

    Everyone should appreciate the dedicated work Sal Brinton has done on pastoral care but Hywel is right about follow-up and analysis of the path of complaints. I spent 18 months trying to get my region to act against a Lib Dem councillor who sent me a really vile xenophobic e-mail (I have forwarded the text to LDV but it is too unpleasant to repeat here) and in the end just gave up. I would bet my bottom dollar that the party has no record of that complaint or its (non) outcome and thus no lessons are learnt for the future.

  • I can’t seem to see how yet again how a discussion of “mansplaining” got in to this thread. But I will ask two things, if you are trying to say patronising, then what is wrong with using the well understood term, unless you are particularly keen to reintroduce gendered slurs in to political discussion (given the topic that would seem strange).

    As to whether the claims of those who use the term that somehow ‘women have a unique knowledge of a topic’ I would point out these discussions normally are intended to revolve around policies and actions intended to achieve a particular outcome. Achieving an outcome will normally require action from people, both men and women. Gender is a terrible indicator of who will have an understanding of how a population will react to anything. So for those who want to defend the use of it I would ask this: What does it add to discussion of public policy?

  • On the topic Hywel mentions, is there any attempt to track the general experience of members to LibDem activity and events to try and cover not just areas where people complain but also where people don’t come forward? I think you need to separate out they different types if issues that people have experienced.

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